Rosemary Focaccia and The Baker’s Percentage

I had serious doubts about this bread.  I was anxious as I measured the ingredients down to the exact gram into the bowl of my mixer. You see, this bread dough has more water than flour.  My hands got clammy as I switched it on and watched the mixture slosh around. “No way is this ever going to turn into dough”, I thought to myself as I set a timer for 20 minutes. All of the recipes in The Bread Bible have worked perfectly up to this point, but I just didn’t see a way for that soupy mixture to ever turn into a shiny ball of bread dough. 15 minutes passed with very few changes and I began to give up hope.

Then it happened. Right around minute 18, as if by magic, the strands of gluten began to catch onto one another and gather around the spinning paddle. By minute 20 I had a perfectly smooth ball of dough. I had never been more shocked in all my life. I just stood there, eyes popping out of my head, staring in amazement and wonder at this mysterious dough.  I turned off the mixer and reached in to see if I could pick it up, and I could. It slowly stretched and did not tear as I gently dropped it back into an oiled bowl to allow it to rise for several hours. I was fascinated. Despite having over 100% water, this still became dough.

Oh, what do I mean over 100%? How can something be over 100%? Well, it’s this strange thing called the baker’s percentage, which I only learned about recently, but is incredibly helpful when scaling recipes. The baker’s percentage assigns the value of 100% to the quantity of flour in a recipe, then all the other percentages are in relation to the flour. For example, let’s say we have a recipe that calls for 200g of flour, 100g water, 20g yeast, and 10g salt. Baker’s percentage would read as, 100% flour, 50% water, 10% yeast, and 5% salt.  This way you can measure out any quantity of flour, and as long as you use half as much water, 10% as much yeast and 5% as much salt, the recipe stays in proportion. Of course all of these measurements must be weights (like grams) not volume (like cups). This doesn’t have a great impact of your day to day baking, but you might find it helpful to know if you are trying to scale a recipe, or if you come across a bread recipe written in percentages and have no idea how to begin.

Look at that texture! The reason I bring up baker’s percentage is because this recipe is famous for having over 100% water. the very long kneading time in the mixer developed the gluten while still preserving a very wet dough. When the bread went in the hot over, all that water began converting to steam, which caused the bubbles on top and the large open structure inside.

This bread is wonderfully chewy with a crisp crust sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt, holding pockets of fragrant olive oil. I truly never believed that a dough with so much water could turn into such a beautiful and delicious bread, but I also know that I am just dipping my toe into understanding bread baking. I’m glad I gave this infamous recipe a chance.

Out of respect to the author, I will not be posting any of the recipes unless I make significant changes to them. This recipe comes from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and is available at bookstores everywhere or possibly in your local library.

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Comments

  1. “Respect for the author” is nonsense. There is a reason food recipes are not subject to copyright. The public good of spreading recipes supersedes all other claims a person might have to limit their distribution.

    • Hi Jeme,
      Although I appreciate how badly you want to make this bread, I still think that sharing recipes that are not already available online is wrong. This is a person’s work, and it’s not mine to give away, even if it is not legally protected by copyright. Support the author, and go buy her book, or borrow one from a friend. Even though this bread is delicious, I would hardly say me respecting the work of the developer is harming “the public good”.

  2. Brenda O'Neill says:

    I’m glad you had such good luck with this recipe mine never came to a dough just stayed like soup. But I did continue hoping it may come together but ended up with very good cracker. I’m trying again tomorrow.

Trackbacks

  1. […] are really hardly bread at all…). The sandwich breads all had a higher percentage of fat (bakers percentage around 15% ) which keep them soft and moist, but the hearth breads have almost no added fat, which […]

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